Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis sparked a tumult last week with her essay “My Title IX Inquisition” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Kipnis, who teaches in the university’s department of radio, television, and film, narrated how a February essay in the Chronicle — plus a tweet — had drawn Title IX complaints from two Northwestern students. That’s right — a published article landed a professor in a Title IX proceeding.
As discussed here, Kipnis’s “inquisition” featured a long and mysterious session with investigators. Before the interrogation, Kipnis couldn’t even get a clear sense of the complaints.
In one grim-sounding sentence, Kipnis told Chronicle readers what it’s like to undergo a grilling over something you’ve written: “They’d asked endless questions about particular sentences in the essay, the sources for my ideas and claims, and what I’d meant in that fateful tweet.”
Intrigued by these “endless questions,” the Erik Wemple Blog interviewed Kipnis over the weekend about those queries. Much of the focus of her investigators, she said, related to the parts of her February essay in which she addressed inclined planes. “In the post-Title IX landscape, sexual panic rules. Slippery slopes abound. Gropers become rapists and accusers become survivors…” she wrote.
Also, Kipnis recounted a legal struggle between a Northwestern philosophy professor who was sued by a student for “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances.” After plunging into the details of the matter, Kipnis wrote: “What a mess. And what a slippery slope, from alleged fondler to rapist. But here’s the real problem with these charges: This is melodrama.”
In our chat, Kipnis noted that she received “many questions” about this stuff.
The investigators, according to Kipnis, wanted to know:
- The sources for the paragraphs about the professor-student clash;
- If Kipnis had contacted anyone else;
- If Kipnis had spoken with the professor;
- What the story’s fact-checking process was (there was a correction and a clarification appended to the February piece);
- What Kipnis meant with her reference to “melodrama.” “I ended up defining ‘melodrama'” for the investigators, says Kipnis — or at least “what I meant by ‘melodrama.'”
- If Kipnis was referring to anyone in particular when she wrote, “Gropers become rapists and accusers become survivors…”
- If she believed university students should have the right to file sexual harassment complaints, a query that Kipnis calls “insulting.”
- If Kipnis thought her article could have a “negative impact” on sexual harassment reporting.
The Northwestern professor recently learned that she’d been cleared of any wrongdoing.
What’s more, Kipnis tells the Erik Wemple Blog that her “faculty-support person” is now in the clear as well. That individual had sat in with Kipnis during her interrogation and faced Title IX complaints as well. Why? Kipnis explained the circumstances in her Chronicle essay last week: Her faculty-support person felt the “process he’d witnessed was a clear violation of academic freedom.” So he went ahead and briefed the Northwestern faculty senate “in general terms” about the investigation. “Shortly thereafter, as the attorneys investigating my case informed me by phone,” wrote Kipnis, “retaliation complaints were filed against him for speaking publicly about the matter…and he could no longer act as my support person.”
The students who’d filed the complaints against the faculty-support person have now withdrawn them, writes Kipnis via e-mail.
What’s even more, Kipnis, as it turns out, had triggered “additional” Title IX complaints relating to this episode. According to Kipnis, those complaints stem from her “potential involvement in and/or approval of” the comments made by that faculty-support person to the Faculty Senate. They have been dropped.